Israel’s government is painfully moving towards an incomprehensible 4th election cycle since the beginning of 2019. It is hard to see an end to the political instability Israel has been experiencing since 2019, especially because the feeling pre-dates the first election of this latest round. Israelis from the entire spectrum of political leanings have few positive feelings towards their political leadership. Close to half of the Israeli electorate is fed up with Netanyahu’s continued reign, while a similar percentage don’t have faith in an alternative leadership for Israel. All Israelis feel that the various parties are investing more time and resources into election campaigns than governance.
Gideon Saar is now the latest in a long list of Likudniks to abandon support for Netanyahu’s continued leadership and create an alternative political party. Current polls show that if he refuses to join a Netanyahu-led coalition, Israel might finally be able to elect a different Prime Minister. But, this result is not a foregone conclusion and would be accompanied by another divisive and expensive election campaign, even before considering another round of negotiations to build a coalition.
April 2019 saw the elections for the 21st Israeli Knesset, the first of three consecutive elections that failed to establish a governing coalition before the Coronavirus shocked the world and Israel into a unity government in March of 2020. Former IDF Chief-of-Staff Benny Gantz, Yesh-Atid leader Yair Lapid, and two additional former Chiefs-of-Staff, Gabi Ashkenazi and Moshe “Boogie” Yaalon, led the newly formed Blue-and-White Party on a campaign to unseat Netanyahu. They promised to fix all of Israel’s woes: to unite Israelis, strengthen its security, invest in health care and education, promote religious pluralism and reduce the wealth gap. Most importantly, they promised to put the needs of Israeli citizens before those of its politicians. The campaign might not have said much about specific policies, but it served as a blunt indictment of Netanyahu’s priorities as he continues to serve under investigation for corruption.
Even before the Coronavirus pandemic made these issues worse, Israelis for years have been frustrated with Israel’s lack of investment in its healthcare, education, and severe wealth gap. Those who suffer from the consequences of an Ultra-Orthodox Rabbinate’s monopoly on religion and state in Israel have been hoping for a change to the status-quo that Netanyahu has protected together with the Haredi parties in his coalition. Blue-and-White declared that the public could rely on them to start fixing these issues.
However, Netanyahu’s tactics continue to polarize the Israeli electorate. He is ruthlessly willing to do anything necessary to stay in power – not passing a budget to force new elections is the latest and most egregious of any act he has done as Prime Minister. Gantz’s ‘humble’ leadership of Blue-and-White looked like an antidote to Netanyahu’s self-serving leadership. Their campaign rhetoric promised a change from Netanyahu, but it remains hard to see a difference from Likud socio-economic and political policies. Gantz’s short-lived popularity was mostly a result of the Israeli public’s pursuit of leadership that was “Anything but Bibi”. Ultimately, Gantz failed to persuade enough of the Israeli electorate, especially those right of center, to support a coalition without Netanyahu. In the end, under the pretense of the Coronavirus emergency, he divided his party and joined a doomed unity government led by Netanyahu’s Likud.
The unity government has been a disaster since its half-hazard inception. It is hard to believe that Saar or another politician will succeed at overcoming Netanyahu when Gantz and so many others have failed since 2008. Israelis dread a return to the polls and especially the thought of all the money set to be wasted in yet another divisive election campaign. The economy is still reeling from the effects of the past (and maybe future) lock-downs. The supposed reason for Gantz joining this emergency coalition government was to deal with the shuttered businesses and sky-rocketing unemployment, but Netanyahu crafted the deal to focus instead on terms of rotation for the premiership and the number of cabinet members each party received. As the election rounds continue, it is clearer than ever that Netanyahu’s priority is less to solve this crisis than to save himself from trial, prison, and embarrassment.
It is still unclear what changes will happen in the government in the near or distant future or when the next election will ultimately take place, but these feelings of frustration will certainly remain. Israelis are paralyzed deciding between the continuation of a disappointing government or another election for a new government that probably won’t change anything.
We hope that The Critically Zionist Podcast’s two-part episode on the Israeli elections can help you understand a little more about what’s going on with these Israeli elections and the divided Israeli electorate. We’ll be enjoying a nice Israeli beer to help lighten the mood and invite you to join us!
Part 1– provides an overview of the past 5 Israeli elections dating back to 2013. It gives perspective on the major players in today’s political field, the parties that are most influential, and the themes that have been at the forefront for the Israeli public.
Part 2– delves into the issues that are facing the Israeli public as we approach another election. We discuss the question of who supports Netanyahu and who’s against him, who’s really confused, and how can Israel invite Israeli Arabs to be a bigger part of Israel’s political life.
Shuki and Noam
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JOSH HARTUV is the Host of The Critically Zionist Podcast and an Israeli tour guide for Hartuv Tours (check out his virtual tours at TOI’s Israel Unlocked!) married to Abi and Abba to Maayan. From Hamilton, Ontario, a die-hard Blue Jays fan, Dead Head, and beer and whisky enthusiast. They live in Tel Aviv and are active members of the Havura Tel Aviv – an egalitarian minyan in Tel Aviv.